November 9, 2011

Reality: Ur doin’ it wrong.

Posted in City life, Lists, Reality tagged , , , , , at 10:48 pm by chavisory

On Fantasy

 Fantasy is silver and scarlet, indigo and azure, obsidian veined with gold and lapis lazuli. Reality is plywood and plastic, done up in mud brown and olive drab. Fantasy tastes of habaneros and honey, cinnamon and cloves, rare red meat and wines as sweet as summer. Reality is beans and tofu, and ashes at the end. Reality is the strip malls of Burbank, the smokestacks of Cleveland, a parking garage in Newark. Fantasy is the towers of Minas Tirith, the ancient stones of Gormenghast, the halls of Camelot. Fantasy flies on the wings of Icarus, reality on Southwest Airlines. Why do our dreams become so much smaller when they finally come true?

We read fantasy to find the colors again, I think. To taste strong spices and hear the songs the sirens sang. There is something old and true in fantasy that speaks to something deep within us, to the child who dreamt that one day he would hunt the forests of the night, and feast beneath the hollow hills, and find a love to last forever somewhere south of Oz and north of Shangri-La.

-George R. R. Martin, author

**********

I feel much the same way as GRRM about fantasy—that it connects us to a deep internal knowledge and history of our own psyches, and recalls something huge and eternal in us.  Epic fantasy, when I was in middle and high school, assured me that there was so much more worth living for than my schools and community were trying to tell me.

But I’m not sure about his dim view of reality…as opposed to the disposable and shallow nature of much of what is sold to us as “reality,” and told we have to accept as the scope of our adult lives.

May I suggest, that if strip malls, plastic and plywood define your reality, and you don’t like it…you’re doing reality wrong.

Because reality is all that stuff, George, but reality is also—

The whistle and rumbling murmur of an early-morning train.

Reality is the first pale green shoots of peppermint pushing up through the dirt in March.

Reality is the guy who plays Simon and Garfunkel’s “El Condor Pasa” on Peruvian pan pipes in the Times Square subway station.

Reality is the stunning silence of a great blue heron taking flight.

Reality is the old Hispanic men in my neighborhood who sit outside in the summertime, playing an eternal sidewalk game of dominos with their boomboxes turned up loud.

Reality is sunset over the Hudson River.

Reality is moonlight, starlight, candle light, lantern light.

Reality is creaky old bookstores, and the thrill of reading a forbidden book hidden between the shelves.

Reality is the feel of sand as soft as cake flour under your feet.

Reality is the smell of wood smoke on the first cold night of fall.

Reality is stained glass, dark coffee, red wine, rosewood incense.  The brush of a fat cat around your ankles, the way evening light moves over the Brooklyn Bridge and tops of the sycamore trees, rooftop Fourth of July parties with the sky on fire around you, waking up on a foggy morning in the Catskill mountains, the sound of the concertmaster tuning an orchestra, tiny cemeteries behind old churches, hidden waterfalls, thunder in a snowstorm, the way deer’s eyes shine in the dark in a flashlight beam.

Nurture magic, wonder, and beauty wherever they occur in your life.  They are real—far more real than strip malls, suburban office parks, and Disneyland—whatever anyone tells you.

July 23, 2011

The Christian case for marriage equality

Posted in Marginalization tagged , , , , at 11:01 pm by chavisory

Legal same-sex marriage begins tomorrow in New York, and I love that the Times ran this article (The Clergy Effort Behind Same-Sex Marriage in New York) spotlighting the efforts of members of the clergy on behalf of marriage equality, noting that it’s a common but erroneous belief that churches and religious people are polarized against the advancement of LGBT equality.  While some of the most conspicuous campaigns against equality have been waged by churches, in fact, there are religious believers working on both sides of this issue.

What makes this surprising or counterintuitive for a lot of people is a pair of major misconceptions, perpetrated largely by the preaching of the fundamentalist religious right wing, that moderate, liberal or progressive Christianity is just a watered down version of fundamentalist Christianity with weaker versions of the same beliefs; and that in supporting LGBT equal rights, we’re just capitulating to the permissive amorality of popular culture.

What we want people to understand is that we’re actually doing this because we truly believe it is right.  Not because it is easy or just happens to be popular at the moment.

We are not, as socially conservative preachers often accuse, saying we believe in equality for political expediency, to be popular, to duck uncomfortable criticism, because we’re insecure in our faith or because we don’t know all the same Bible verses from Leviticus and 1st Corinthians that they do.  We support LGBT equality, including in legal marriage, as an expression of our faith, not in spite of it.

We think that the narrative arc of the Bible is one of an ever-expanding conception of grace and compassion for our fellow humans.  It’s a story of each successive generation seeing a new reflection of God in the world and the people around them.  We don’t think that that story ended 2000 years ago, but that we’re asked by Christ constantly to see all people anew as creations of God.

I do take issue with one characterization of the debate from the article, when it says “Yet the passage of same-sex marriage in New York last month, just two years after its defeat here, attests to the concerted, sustained efforts by liberal Christian and Jewish clergy to advocate for it in the language of faith, to counter the language of morality voiced by foes.”

Because we absolutely believe that this is an issue of morality as well.  We believe it’s immoral for the government to create second-class citizens and second-class families.  We believe it’s immoral to withhold civil rights based on sexuality just as it would be to deny those rights on the basis of race or religion.  We think that the bigotry enshrined by the Defense of Marriage Act is immoral.  We believe that to scapegoat gays for divorce, child abuse, and a host of other cultural problems is immoral.  We believe it is a moral edict of our faith to stand up for the most vulnerable and marginalized people in our society.

We are not attempting to undermine morality, but to support a morality of compassion and respect for all of our citizens.

We believe, as Victor Hugo wrote, “to love another person is to see the face of God,” and that nothing can make that wrong.

May 6, 2011

A better life

Posted in Lists, Reflections tagged , , , at 3:49 pm by chavisory

The New York Times Economix blog reports this week (Dimming Optimism for Today’s Youth) that, for the first time in a long time, a majority of Americans are not optimistic that today’s youth will have a better life than their parents, as they answered the question:

In America, each generation has tried to have a better life than their parents, with a better living standard, better homes, a better education, and so on.  How likely do you think it is that today’s youth will have a better life than their parents–very likely, somewhat likely, somewhat unlikely, or very unlikely?

This isn’t exactly the post that I thought it was going to be.  I was going to argue against the implicit assumption of the way the question is phrased–the conflation of greater and greater achievement of material wealth with being qualitatively “better”–as being economically unsustainable, and in the manner of a Red Queen’s Race, actually a recipe for ever-diminishing quality of life.  But I wondered then if I was trying to read more into the question than was actually intended for the sake of having an argument, and a blog post.

What if we start instead by questioning what a “good” life is, before we try to quantify likelihood of whatever a “better” one is?  What would I include as requisites for a good life?

To love, and be loved in return.
To leave the world a better place than you found it–kinder, safer, more beautiful.
To be able to do work you know is meaningful.
To have a rich internal life, in addition to external relationships to keep you strong.
To serve something higher than yourself.
To be fed, and to be sheltered.
To be known.
To know joy, loyalty, and faith.
To live through grief.
To be content with who you are on some basic level.
To know what it is to be alone, and what it is not to be.
To know your own history, your own narrative.
To be needed.

I can’t fathom a complete life without reading, writing, and music.

And I don’t know that happiness or comfort have much to do with it, so much as satisfaction in their pursuit.

As I look at my list, of course I hope the next generation, and my children if I ever have them, will have a better life, in terms of having more of all of these things.  But I couldn’t care less about whether they’ll have more stuff or a bigger house or another advanced degree.

Am I optimistic for them?  I’m not sure yet.  If they’re able to start exercising some common sense when it comes to environmental protection, if they’ll abandon the suburbs and exurbs for liveable communities again, if they’re more creative, resourceful, skeptical, literate, compassionate, committed to justice and equality, less interested in war and domination, more able to teach themselves, less able, willing or entitled to take any level of material wealth or comfort for granted.

I’m not sure yet.

April 25, 2011

Innocence

Posted in My neighborhood, Reflections tagged , , , , , at 1:18 pm by chavisory

I just finished a book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Annie Dillard, which I picked up after I saw it referenced in two different places within a short period of time.  I don’t believe in coincidences; it’s been my experience that when the universe presents things so plainly and repeatedly to me, it’s because they’re going to mean something significant to me.

I requested a copy from the library first, but returned it and went and bought a copy after I loved the first chapter that much.  My apartment is small; I have to be selective about buying books.

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is written very much in the heritage of Thoreau’s Walden.  In 1971, Dillard lived near Tinker Creek, in Virginia, and wrote about finding immense significance in the abundance, intricacy and violence of her ecological neighborhood over the course of a year.  It’s a wonderful book to read in the spring.

I was particularly struck by what she says about the human quality of innocence:

Innocence sees that this is it, and finds it world enough, and time….It is possible to pursue innocence as hounds persue hares: singlemindedly, driven by a kind of love, crashing over creeks, keening and lost in fields and forests, circling, vaulting over hedges and hills wide-eyed, giving loud tongue all unawares to the deepest, most incomprehensible longing, a root-flame in the heart, and that warbling chorus resounding back from the mountains, hurtling itself from ridge to ridge over the valley, now faint, now clear, ringing the air through which the hounds tear, open-mouthed, the echoes of their own wails dimly knocking in their lungs.

What I call innocence is the spirit’s unself-conscious state at any moment of pure devotion to any object.  It is at once a receptiveness and total concentration.

We’re so accustomed to thinking of innocence as a negative state: as a lack of knowledge, a lack of sexual experience, a lack of maturity, something to be overcome.  Even in more desirable terms, “lack of guile or corruption; purity,” in the phrasing of my New Oxford American Dictionary, innocence is defined by absence, by lack.  In Dillard’s conception, by contrast, innocence is a positive, nearly palpable state of intensity, a potentiality, a spark, not only the absence of self-consciousness but a presence–devotion–and the capacity for active pursuit of joy.

I wish that we valued innocence more in this way, rather than infantilizing and dismissing it.  For example:

A picture of devotion, fittingly, to a man who gave us so much by pursuing it himself.

April 7, 2011

Cloisters

Posted in City life, Explorations, Uncategorized tagged , , at 1:18 pm by chavisory

I had an old friend in town this past weekend and we went to visit The Cloisters in upper Manhattan.  (The Cloisters is a museum of medieval European/Christian art and architecture, and the building is actually assembled from bits and pieces of ruined abbeys and monasteries from the 12th-15th centuries.)

I was smitten over and over by the sight of gardens, sky and light through multiple iterations of windows and passageways.

There’s a metaphor about confinement, revelation, seeking, labyrinths, and illumination hiding in there somewhere….

January 23, 2011

Forgotten pictures and being out of place in time

Posted in Reflections, Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 2:28 pm by chavisory

I took some pictures on my digital camera in the last couple weeks, of the latest New York Snowpocalypse (can it really be the “snowpocalypse” if it happens every year?) in Central Park, and of certain mysterious phenomena of my apartment.  When I went to upload them to my computer, there were a dozen pictures in the batch that I’d forgotten were on the camera, from a short, whirlwind trip to Beaver Creek, Colorado back in August for my cousin’s wedding.  I remembered I’d disregarded them because most of them were taken quickly, some from a moving ski lift, and my camera’s battery was having trouble deciding whether or not it was imminently dying, so I’d assumed they couldn’t have turned out very well and written them off.  But a few of them were okay.


Something touched me about that single, abandoned tram car sitting alone in a field.

What strikes me is the huge sense of peace that emanates from them, even though very little about the weekend, and nothing about my life at the time was peaceful in the slightest.  A lot was going on personally.  I had gotten a 6 AM flight to Denver and was delirious from going nearly 24 hours without sleep at one point, and cranky and strung out from altitude sickness.  I was working on two shows at the time–one going perfectly swimmingly but the other descending rapidly into hell–and was in close contact all weekend with my partner stage manager concerning the latter one, and playing frantic phone tag with two other people about the schedules of possible upcoming gigs.  There was apparently some family drama that I didn’t even hear about until much later.

Only far in retrospect is that bright, sparklingly vivid tranquility that was there the whole time apparent to me, as I take a last few peaceful hours to myself this morning, before I begin tomorrow my next long, hard slog through a production that I can already tell is going to take everything out of me for the next couple months.  It’s like the assurance of peace only now caught up to me in time, or I caught up to it.  The sense is resonant of a verse of one of my current favorite songs:

I am assured, yes, I am assured, yes, I am assured that peace will come to me.
A peace that can, yes, surpass the speed, yes, of my understanding and my need.

–Josh Ritter, “Lark”

A thought that I’m going to try to hang on to…as it’s becoming apparent that my next few weeks are going to feel more like this:

Remember: Every situation is different with respect to the bear, the terrain, the people and their activity.

Stay calm.

November 29, 2010

The myth of Christmas

Posted in Reflections tagged , , at 3:52 pm by chavisory

So the group American Atheists has put up this billboard outside the Lincoln Tunnel in New Jersey:


I’m not even going to get started on the billboard’s implications that faith and reason are mutually exclusive conditions of being.  Or that only atheists are reasonable people.  Or that all religious belief is literal and simpleminded.  Or its smarmy pretenses to intellectual superiority.  Or the fact that–though it’s sadly true that atheists have for many years endured inexcusable insults, abuse, and persecution from believers–lumping all Christian believers together into a stereotype, insulting their intellectual capacity, and spitting on the significance of their holiday is probably not the greatest way to win friends, allies, respect or acceptance.

What I do want to critique is the billboard’s chief assertion–which I hear from some atheists quite frequently–that religious beliefs amount to nothing more than myth, or even fairy tale. (And I say SOME atheists, because most I know do not go around insulting other people’s beliefs just because they don’t share or understand them.  Just like most of the religious people I know don’t believe, or go around telling atheists, that they’re amoral devil worshipers who are all going to hell unless they’re saved by Jesus.)

Yes, I know it’s a myth, thanks very much.  I’m a Christian, and I know that the Christmas story is a myth.

But atheists who condescendingly call religious stories myths and fairy tales actually aren’t succeeding in insulting religion.  They’re showboating their own ignorance and shallowness by belittling the cultural and emotional importance of myth and fairy tale.

When we think of “myths,” most of us probably think first of the Greek and Roman myths, which maybe we learned in school, and were probably told that they were the way that ancient people explained natural phenomena like the seasons because they didn’t have science yet.  So we got the impression that myths are simplistic stories that ignorant people make up for themselves to explain what they otherwise can’t.

And “fairy tales” now carry a strong connotation of “Disney” in American culture–sweet and fanciful stories to comfort children with, which always have happy endings.

But neither of these is historically accurate.  Most people know by this time that the original fairy tales of medieval Europe were not at all what Disney later made of them; they were dark and frightening and contained more than ample murder, rape, child abuse, grinding poverty, evil, and sorrow and suffering of every kind.  And they didn’t sugarcoat or dumb down the reality of these things for children.  They weren’t told to distract children from the horrors of their daily existence, but to illustrate, symbolically, how to confront and cope with them.

And to really be familiar with the Greek/Roman, Scandinavian, Celtic, ancient Japanese, or any other culture’s collection of myths, they’re not superficial or simplistic little stories about why we have seasons; they’re incredibly multidimensional, psychologically rich narratives about a culture’s conceptions of its relation to morality, fate, death, nature, birth and renewal, eternity, and love.

And we’re still telling and retelling those stories, every day, in every possible medium–in movies, books, music, theater and dance.  In comic books, even.  We’re still moved and educated and entertained by them.  Not because we think that they’re literally or factually true, but because they have powerful emotional and intuitive resonance with timeless human experiences that can be hard to articulate or accept in literal ways.  Not because we unquestioningly believe them, but because they make us question.  They are supposed to make us think more deeply about our own lives, not stop thinking.

So it doesn’t offend me when anyone calls religious experiences and stories myths.  Because they are, in the best sense of the word.  They give common voice to the most difficult and intimate of human experiences.  What’s maddening is when people hurl “myth” as an insult, without any apparent understanding of what they’re saying.  It reveals much more about their own disdain for what they don’t understand than it does about the significance of religious celebration.

May 10, 2010

Amusing illustrations of fate, serendipity, and inevitability

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 1:44 pm by chavisory

I’ve always felt strongly that my chosen career field is in fact what I was fated, or maybe even divinely intended, to be doing with my life, even though the process by which I got here superficially appears so tenuous and dependent on sheer chance, even luck.  So it’s especially appropriate that this article and this music video came into my life at about the same time last week, both introduced to me by fellow cast and crew members of my current production.

In Back From the Future from the April 2010 issue of Discover Magazine, Zeeya Merali explores the emergence of the hypothesis of “backwards causality,” or how the bizarre and counterintuitive rules of quantum physics predict that not only do the events of the past cause the circumstances of the present, but that the events of the future affect those of the past, and what this implies for human decision-making and free will.  (Do not fear, my non-science-y friends and readers; the writing is very clear and straightforward.  You don’t have to be a physicist to be able to understand or be amazed by it.)

I watched Ok Go’s music video, This Too Shall Pass, about 15 times in a row the night that a cast member told me I had to go home and google it, it made me so viscerally and irrationally happy.  The story of the video is quite amazing; knowing what kind of video they wanted to make, the band enlisted the help of 20 engineers and physicists to plan it; the Rube-Goldberg apparatus took 3 months to set up, and 89 takes to obtain the footage of it running smoothly.  The perfection of the mechanics, musical timing and sensory and emotional beauty of the piece are stunning for just how not inevitable that perfection was, but rather the result of voluminous planning, history, fortune, focus, relentlessness of purpose, torturous tech rehearsals, and thousands of ineffable and seemingly inconsequential decisions which lighted the path to the final frame.

Recently I looked around at my world, and my life, on a sunny late afternoon in SoHo as I was on my way back from dinner to a rehearsal and thought with thankfulness and amazement, “wow, everything here feels right right now.”  I believe that the universe, or fate, or God, offers us signposts and signals, if we’re paying attention, that we’re on the path where we should be…and that’s what these two little snippets of human creation felt like, as well as reminders that your fate is not a single ultimate destination, or inevitable outcome, but the entirety of the way in which you live your life.

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